The creator of Bridget Jones's Diary likes old-fashioned page-turners like Jane Austen and Thomas Hardy with a good dose of high-quality escapist fluff from P.G. Wodehouse.
The books I really don't like are the ones that are so pretentiously "un-page-turny" that you end up reading the same paragraph eight times without noticing because it's gone in one ear and out the other. The books I do enjoy are the ones that combine the best qualities of literary novels—by "literary" I mean those that are timeless because they capture quintessential truths about life and human nature—and the best qualities of pulp novels—by "pulp" I mean those you just can't put down.
My latest novel is a comedy/spy story. I must admit my first draft of it was terrible. So I bought all these self-help writing books. My favorite was called You Can Write a Mystery . I learned that suspense is about parceling out bits of information, always raising the question, "So now what's going to happen?"
The great old classic authors like Jane Austen did that instinctively. I think readers could expect a gripping plot from every book until the 1920s, when writers like Virginia Woolf and James Joyce started experimenting with stream of consciousness. It seems to me that there's this ghastly canon of highbrow literary works that are impossible for normal people to get through. But they do have their merits: They're marvelous to leave on the coffee table to make you look clever!
Helen Fielding is the author of Bridget Jones's Diary and Olivia Joules and the Overactive Imagination (Viking).
What's on Helen Fielding's Bookshelf? Read more!
From the June 2004 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine
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